Women of Shotokan: Miki Nakamachi

By Dr. Christian Tribowski

The spirit of Shotokan Karate Do leads to an attitude of budo and a splendid posture. Miki Nakamachi has both and teaches both in an admirable way. Although she has suffered one of the greatest losses, a human being can experience, she did not give up and fought her way back. Today, she is a mother of two, runs her own stretching studio, promotes Karate for women and children, and strives to become the next JKA World Champion. Karate has been giving her the strength to stand the downs and to set course for new ups in life. Read this wonderful, insightful, open, and moving interview with Miki Nakamachi – a true woman of Shotokan. Oss!

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“Karate continues to teach me the meaning of life.”

Miki Nakamachi

Brief Portrait

Name: Miki Nakamachi

Age: 32

Karate since: 5 years old

Origin and residence: Born and raised in Kobe. Presently residing in Yokohama

(Kyu/Dan) Rank: 4th dan

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Dojo: Houkukan Shibuya dojo

Additional information (member of a national team, coach, board member of a Dojo, highest achievements etc.):

JKA National team 2011

JKA National team 2014

JKA National team 2019

Funakoshi Gichin Cup 13th Karate World Championship Tournament 2014 Woman’s Individual Kata First Place

55th, 56th and 57th (2012, 2013, 2014) JKA All Japan Karate Championship Women’s Individual Kata First Place

 Coach of the Keio University Karate club (2012- present)

Interview

What was the reason that you started Shotokan Karate?

I remember my brother and my father going to karate practice wearing their karate dogi.

My brother’s belt kept changing colors.

First, it was just curiosity. I wanted to do what my brother was doing. I remember doing my first punches in my parent’s bedroom with my father. He said, “if you really want to start, I will take you to the dojo, but once you start you can not quit until you get your black belt.”  My father has always been a great sensei to me.

What do you like about Shotokan Karate?

I like the simplicity, the powerful “Kime” and the hip movement.

 I think Shotokan Karate teaches us how to use our body while keeping it relaxed.

Also, because of our wide stances, it pushes us to really use our core, think about our breathing and posture. The basic movements are both beautiful and powerful at the same time because we are using our whole body weight to make “Kime”.

Miki Kata training under the guidance of Sensei
Kobayashi Kunio

Is there something you do not like? What is it?

I used to not like practicing in the winter. In Japan, we usually practice in school gyms.

During the winter, the floor feels like ice, and we basically lose all feeling in our feet.

I used to get blisters all the time and it was horrible because you don’t notice it until the end of the practice when you are just getting warmer.

What has been your greatest and your worst experience so far related to Shotokan Karate?

The Shoto world cup 1998 in France was one of the most eye opening experiences for me. I was 11 years old and it was my first overseas tournament.  I remember the colorful flags and people from different ages all warming up.  And even though Karate is a Japanese martial art, it was so amazing to feel the connection of people from around the world. It was so nice to see how Karate brings everyone together.  As a young girl, I remember being so moved by the idea that all the “Karateka” practiced the same Japanese martial art and that we all understood each other through the non verbal language of karate.

What do you do when the training becomes challenging? Where do you get motivation from?

Training is always challenging. When I was young, I used to think about how I could take more breaks during practice. Sometimes I used my Asthma as an excuse to get out half the practice.  Now in my busy schedule with taking care of my daughters and working at my studio, I treasure every moment that I can get to practice. I give my all in every punches and kicks because I appreciate my family and friends for watching my daughters while practicing. My motivation is my daughters, and the idea about showing them the importance of finding your passion.

How has Shotokan Karate changed you as a person?

Compared to my sister and brother, I would say I was less of a challenger. I was always shy. 

I think karate has made me braver and stronger so that I could push and challenge myself.

As an adult Karate continues to teach me the meaning of life. Karate helps me to see myself objectively and it has helped me control my emotions and my actions.

How has Shotokan Karate influenced your life? Has it helped you overcome or deal with difficult situations in your life? Is it helping you on a daily basis with the challenges of life?

Karate has always been there for me. When I need to be focused on what is in front of me, I was able to do this because Karate helps to focus on the “now”.  Three years ago, I lost my middle child two days after he was born.  It is hard for anyone to go through a lost of a child and everyone has their own time to mourn. I know for me, having a goal and thinking about all the people supporting me in karate was my strength and motivation to overcome my loss and move on. Two months later I was back at my karate practice and six month after losing my son, I opened my stretching Studio. 

How has your Shotokan Karate changed over time?

After I graduated from university, even though in my mind I knew karate was a way of life, I think karate was a way to challenge myself to the next level. I always wanted to win and prove myself that I could do better. After going through pregnancy and being a mother, and going through the changes in my body, I realized that karate was helping me through finding myself as a woman. Because all my Sensei’s were men, I always thought being good at karate meant being muscular and mannish. Now I find karate as being a way to find my womanly side. 

After I graduated from university, even though in my mind I knew karate was a way of life, I think karate was a way to challenge myself to the next level. I always wanted to win and prove myself that I could do better. After going through pregnancy and being a mother, and going through the changes in my body, I realized that karate was helping me through finding myself as a woman. Because all my Sensei’s were men, I always thought being good at karate meant being muscular and mannish. Now I find karate as being a way to find my womanly side. 

What are your personal Shotokan Karate short- and long-term goals?

My short-term goals would be winning the JKA All Japan, the Asian tournament, and the World tournament. I do not think winning is everything, but I do want to show that there is no limit to improvement. I also keep competing because I want to prove that improvement of karate can lead to improvement of health, especially for women. Women are more likely to retire from karate because a lot of women still think that giving birth and becoming a wife and a mother means putting yourself after everyone else. I believe health is the most important thing you can have. Without your health and strength, you cannot take care of others.

“Without your health and strength, you cannot take care of others.” – Miki Nakamachi

My long-term goal is to spread Shotokan Karate to women as a way of learning about self-control, especially focusing on posture and breathing. Posture is the key to a healthier body and mind, and I believe karate is one of the greatest ways to achieving this.

How should Shotokan Karate evolve in the future?

I want everyone to know that karate can be for everyone.  As it did for me, karate can help you to be better at different sports but also help with the little things in life, such as opening a jar, picking up something heavy or how to control your breathing after running to catch the elevator.

I think it is a “must learn” for elementary age children as many children today have bad posture from looking down at their games, iPads, and tablets. If children and their mothers can be aware of their own body and health, it can help prevent all kinds of health issues in the future.  Lastly, karate is something that I hope women would want to start after giving birth, something that is not only physical training but also gives hope and psychological strength for facing tough times in life.

“Many children today have bad posture from looking down at their games, iPads, and tablets.” – Miki Nakamachi

Would you recommend Shotokan Karate to your female friends? Why?

Yes, I would definitely recommend karate to my female friends because I believe it makes life better by helping with self-control, especially focusing on posture and breathing. Posture is the key to a healthier body and mind.  Once you have a good posture and your mind is positive, it will help you respect yourself and others.

Another reason I would recommend Karate to women is because woman are more likely to have to changes their life style. I myself went through giving birth three times and it was not easy mentally and physically because of the changes in my hormone level and my body. I actually gained 20kg each time and it sometimes took away my self-esteem. Karate was my way of feeling accomplishment and growth. The beauty of Karate is that everyone is always a student, no matter what level you become. You never stop learning and you can start at any age.

Photo credit: Oshima Ringo, Hiraga Akari

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